I was intrigued by this statement about talents in advertising from a recent initiative launched by the American Advertising Associations ‘Open Advertising’. There is indeed a new definition of advertising talents because the business of advertising is no longer just the narrowly defined meaning. In fact, an emerging trend is happening across the creative industry internationally. Everything is a remix. Nothing can be so clearly defined anymore.

The most dramatic results can happen when ideas are combined. By connecting ideas together, creative leaps can be made, producing some of history’s biggest breakthroughs.

– Kirby Ferguson

Swedish furniture giant IKEA diversifies in urban planning projects ‘Ikea-land’ and most recently have entered in home electronics market with debut product Uppleva. The brand is breaking away from just offering affordable flat-pack furniture to give people an all-round life-enhancing experience.

When Youtube goes “live” by rolling out live streaming platform featuring premium channels, they technically compete with traditional TV channels. They have outgrown their original positioning of ‘broadcast yourself’ essentially focusing on ‘video sharing’.

Social media is not just about getting ‘social’ anymore. When more than 50% of us have now learned about a major breaking news story via platform like twitter, social media has become a credible news-broadcasting platform.

Rock star Lenny Kravitz launched his debut furniture design in collaboration with iconic Italian furniture company Kartell and design personality Philippe Stark. Since establishing his practice Kravitz Design Inc in 2003, Lenny had been involved with multiple large-scale hotel projects, a collaboration with Swarovski. He is now a credible entertainer, artist and designer in one.

In the agency business, companies get multi-dimensional. Creative agencies no longer just satisfy with creating ads. Ad agencies are convinced that the full service preposition is losing its edge. Independent media planning agencies no longer content with the decoupled model and start creating and producing ads.

BBH developed BBH Labs in 1998. They describe themselves as a ‘global innovation unit’, focusing on ‘pioneering new outputs and approaches’. They represent a new generation of creative strategists who do not want to be bounded by conventional solutions, offering clients ‘marketing innovation as a powerful force for good’. Certainly hard for some of the clients to grasp what they actually offer or do, but possibly opening up a whole new agency model.

TBWA branches out product development arm Pilot.is, developing campaign management platform as marketable products. Perhaps it’s in recognition of the importance of implementation in the creative process?

Sid Lee Architecture was launched in 2009 as an extension of creative-services firm Sid Lee. Helmed by architects Jean Pelland and Martin Leblanc, Sid Lee Architecture combines branding with pure architectural know-how so the physical manifestation of a brand’s identity is just as solid as its advertising. Jean and Martin once said in an interview “We realized that we could create richer experiences by bringing in different disciplines. We have discussions now with brand strategists and copywriters, so we can produce a different type of architecture.” In practice, during the ideation processes, SLA will use the communication and branding insights from Sid Lee, then apply those to their designs. In terms of talents they also go for talents with hybrid skills. They hire architects, but those with special skills. Explained Jean and Martin “We won’t hire a digital-media artist, but we’ll hire an architect who can program. We won’t hire an illustrator but bring in someone who likes to draw.” Brand architect is no longer just a description of an integrated process but an emerging new discipline.

Hotshop agency such as Anomaly is unique in how they position themselves. The company develops its own intellectual property that it can license to clients in return for share in revenues. Their aspiration is to be a ‘product developing IP company’, marketing their own portfolio of IP as well as doing that for major brands. As the Nobel-Prize winning physicist Richard Feynman once said “What I cannot create I do not understand”, perhaps the only way to be able to provide your client a compelling marketing solution, is to have a firm understanding of each step of the reasoning involved.

It is not easy to break new ground. It is even scary to take risks at times. People continue questioning about what you do. But chances are, as Paul Arden said, “It’s the wrong way to think. But the right way to win.”

Apart from a few obvious global giants, few brands establish dominant positions in multiple markets. Often this has become one of the main challenges for brands to create one single global creative platform.

There are a number of reasons behind it. Different perception and taste of the product is one, what I call the ‘marmite effect’. Or the product could simply be reaching a totally different product life cycle in each local market. Orangina is one such example.

When Miss O meets Tora-san

In France, the brand began its production in 1963 and has been so established that, arguably, it has become a lifestyle brand. In its popular advertising featuring the classic Orangina Rouge to the controversial ‘furry animals’ campaign back in 2008 through to the most recent ‘Miss O’ creative platform, it’s all about creating buzz and keeping the brand fresh and current in the mind of consumers. It’s what’s outside that counts!

In the new series of spots by Fred & Farid Paris directed by Joseph Kahn, the lady wolf is portrayed as a heartbreaker, in “Working late” she lies to her wimpy boyfriend and then in “Dump”, she breaks up with him in a very public way. The work, centred around the wolf, who is Miss O, asks you who really is the boss when it comes to relationships.

The local culture also provides a perfect playground for such creative platform to flourish, share and engage. The tagline “C’est qui le sexe fort?” (creatively adapted as “Who is the boss” or literally means “Which is the strong sex?”). Interestingly, the French consumers with GSOH are not steered to take the message literally, and the creative idea was instantly recognised, accepted and embraced.

On the other side of the globe in Japan, Suntory acquired the Orangina brand in 2009 and the new-look Orangina replacing the classic pear-shaped bottle was just launched in March. As a relatively new brand in the market, being French has its advantage. The recent ‘Toro-san’ campaign featuring Richard Gere rides on that ‘foreignness’ and was distinctively designed for that market.

In the launch commercial, Richard Gere appears as Tora-san, the lovable ‘loser’ in Shochiku’s very popular 48-film series of Japanese comedy movies entitled 『男はつらいよ』(It’s Tough Being a Man). Not only is he a contemporary adaptation of the original character played by Kiyoshi Atsumi, the commercials also use the same iconic music “Otoko wa Tsuraiyo” from the series.

The original Tora-san in 『男はつらいよ』:

The underlying message is that the brand is a western idea adapting within the framework of the Japanese culture. By riding on the character of Tora-san who is famous for being a bumbling Mr. Everyman, gives the brand personality a distinctive western dimension.

George Field wrote in his book “From Bonsai to Levis” (1983), and commented that in Japan culture, contrary to the stereotype, the woman is the boss (in the context that Japanese women control the purse strings in the family and are well positioned to occupy the seat of power).

There is an intriguing irony between the dominating ‘Miss O’ and humble ‘Tora-san’ here. Though I have a feeling that it is just a happy co-incidence, I cannot help but imagine what if ‘Tora-san’ meets ‘Miss O’, could that be a marriage made in heaven?

Could that be a cross-border joint production and creative adaptation?

One might argue that going for a completely localised approach, it means that it will be a long way when Orangina can create a truly global brand that captures a common language as in the case of some other globally aligned beverage brands.

For the time being, the brand may not be able to take advantage of the costs efficiency enjoyed by creating a centralized global idea that many marketers aim for, but they certainly give the brand an opportunity to grow with the local market at the right time, in the right place. This also reinforces the belief that there is no single, optimal answer to the question of how to manage a global brand.

As the Singapore Tourism Board had embarked on a debatably controversial execution in targeting the Australian audience, I like to share with you some of the thoughts I have on tourism advertising.

When you are everywhere, you are nowhere.

When you are somewhere, you are everywhere.

– Rumi

One of the main challenges in promoting a place as tourist destination is that it is almost impossible to agreed on a single proposition, simply because of the number of stakeholders involved – from politicians, businesses, industry bodies to ordinary citizen – each hold on to their own agenda; as are the complex segmentation of target audiences categorised by region and at the same time cutting through different sectors.

The outcome often turns out to be somewhat of a compromise and most often than not, the ‘agreed’ execution is watered down to the lowest common denominator.

Is it time for tourism marketing to take a detour?

With a much richer media landscape to build your brand story these days, would a well-orchestrated multi-touchpoint strategy, each reaching a very specific target be more effective? Apart from the mass appeal ‘poster image attraction’ approach are we missing out the niche interests? Are we underestimating the power of the people? Will campaigns like ‘Community of Sweden’ making the most of sharing and user generated content work in your culture?

Here I have randomly clipped some of the recent campaigns by various tourism boards from Portugal, Turkey, India, Norway and Austria. These are by no means comprehensive nor representative (and you will see what I meant). What I like to provoke are discussions on what makes a tourism campaign successful. And more important, how a watered-down message simply won’t help.

I also like to hear any good examples of tourism marketing tactics that work specifically for your market, and what we can learn from it. (Tweet @louiechow)


When I saw the second instalment of the campaign from the Singapore Tourism Board, I knew that it will create a bit of debate.

The commercial was designed to target the Australian tourists and aimed to change Australians’ entrenched perception of Singapore as a stopover destination. Debuted on 8 March in cinemas across Australia.

Perhaps what have created the instant reaction from the audience was in fact the tagline they had chosen – ‘Get Lost and Find the Real Singapore’.

Riding on the colloquialism of the folks down under, the approach reminds me of the ‘Where the bloody hell are you?’ catchphrase from the Australian Tourism Commission a couple of years ago. Tongue-in-cheek? Definitely. Gimmicky? May be. What’s the difference this time is the ‘Get Lost’ campaign from the STB is meant to be single-mindedly for the Australian audience, while the ATC ‘WTBHAY’ campaign was run internationally. So compare to the ATC tactics, STB’s strategy is one that based on segmentation and localized messaging.

Back in December last year, STB had already launched the first phase of the campaign entitled ‘New Discoveries’ in China, specially tailored for the new wave of Chinese tourists who are beginning to make their own travel arrangement, much younger and look for experiences that include new and unique undertakings.

Putting the execution aside, I think the tactics of clear targeting and strategic localized message is already a step better than most ‘wallpaper’ type tourism marketing I have seen.

The only thing I like to suggest is underneath all the localized message, if there is an emotional ‘hot button’ that run through the campaigns in different market, identifying the ‘universal truth’ as I always believe, it will allow a much stronger platform for any execution to build on.

According to STB, the customized marketing plans will be rolled out in phases. After the launch in China and Australia, India, Indonesia and Malaysia will follow. I guess we just have to wait and see.

At the time of writing this post, I have asked a few of my creative folks in Sydney to comment on this campaign from a local point of view, please check back for updates.

If you are based in India, Indonesia and Malaysia, how do you think STB should tailor their message for your market? I would like to hear from you.

Every so often brands rise up to the challenge to communicate the brand on an emotional level. Rather than just merely telling people what the product is, it tells people what the brand means. Mattel had just done that. The new TV spot created by the Mattel Barbie marketing team in LA conveys what the brand means – Barbie is not just a character with beautiful clothes and make up, it gives consumers a channel to spread their dreams. All of a sudden, Barbie is not just a toy; it’s a medium, an inspiration. That, to me, is a brilliant idea.

And what could be better to express the emotion than a TV commercial with great production value. The universal aspirations that it projects work across generations and culture. I can also see how it could work very well globally and potentially become an international sensation.

Barbie is reinventing herself in some of the newly developed markets such as China. Last year, Mattel opened a unique concept store in a country where parents consider their only child as ‘little precious’. The Barbie Store in Shanghai has furniture, fashion range and even a café and a spa. The potential of the product extension is enormous. I start to see Barbie ballet school, Barbie scholarships on its way.

I always believe that true creativity goes beyond short term sales increase, it builds brands for the long term.

TVC link: http://youtu.be/bz_XFdPBkLY

Coca-Cola recently had embarked on a big move to centralise its European marketing operation into a London hub. Joe Thomas of Marketing Magazine (Marketingmagazine.co.uk, 20.04.2010) reported that Coca-Cola currently uses a roster of agencies from countries across the region, all of which contribute to its marketing activity. Adding to the complexity, the marketing campaign is decided and activated by marketers at a national level, rather than collectively from a region-wide or global perspective. Not only it results in a total lack of synergy in its advertising in each market, the localised marketing activities and ideas actually create unnecessary costs.

Some may comment that many of the markets in Europe operate, on occasion, purely for their own benefit, without considering a wider regional picture. The Diet Coke TV commercial featuring Duffy was criticized for being an idea that will never going to work outside the UK. Some even commented that as a Welsh singer in a supermarket would not appeal to any other audience. Putting side the fact that I actually quite like the song (and secretly love the commercial), the way it was adapted for other markets by simply dubbing the line and subtitling the song in Austrian, Slovenian, Bulgarian…and so on, it has lost its simplicity. As an idea, it has been diluted as an execution – and it was an execution that cost Coca-Cola money.

Addressing local needs while leveraging on the global platform is one of the key objectives for global brands these days. Creating a truly viable global creative platform and at the same time leaving room for local manipulation, is the real challenge for any agency working on global brands.

Some global brands such as McDonald’s, the fast food restaurant chain, is asking its advertising agencies to adopt a more collaborative approach as it seeks to enhance the effectiveness of its marketing. Under the leadership of Mary Dillon, McDonald’s global chief marketing officer, a collaborative culture has been built among all the different creative agencies working on the business – which includes DDB Worldwide and TBWA, both part of Omnicom Group, and Leo Burnett Worldwide, owned by Publicis Groupe, as well as Cossette, a Canadian independent, and Brazilian shop Taterka.

The multiple-agency scenario which creates inevitable power struggle among the agencies is becoming a norm – and will never go away. In the case of McDonald, DDB could well argue that they do have offices in Brazil, a market where Taterka has the specialist expertise in. But the fact is Taterka has a good reputation in the Hispanic market and they do have a value within the marketing operation of McDonald’s – adding to whatever other political reasons, ‘de-coupling’ them out would not be a wise option.

There is always conflict between the central marketing team, regional teams and then the creative excellence team, which fits into the middle. Projects can come from anywhere in Europe, and the fact that it moves around so much shows they are not clear about what to do. It is overstaffed as a result.

In these cases, a global marketing implementation agency can play a role including:

Centralised agency collaboration: Building a platform for all the agency partners to work together, helping the global client in managing the activities and enhancing the communications among the numerous counterparts. This could be a ‘technology solution’ and/or an international ‘agency activation’ function with staff in each hub.

Creative and cultural hub: Helping each agency partner to roll out campaign originated from that office, turning the locally created idea into a viable global platform by providing a global creative and cultural consultation and adaptation at the idea generation stage. It is already happening that some of the Hispanic market specialist agencies are creating concepts that could roll out internationally, at the moment they do not have the resources to adapt it creatively and making it culturally relevant – plus production related consultation of course. And being in the maze of the multiple agency partner situation, the independent shop, Taterka for example, obviously find it sensitive working ‘with’ DDB. And that’s where an independent global creative resource (like Freedman) is valuable.

Marketing magazine reported that Coca Cola has gone ‘back to basics’ with latest TVC (marketingmagazine.co.uk, 08.04.10). To my knowledge, the commercial is almost certainly not a new campaign. It had been adapted in many different languages for many markets.


Combining visual analogy with tailored made voice over treatment – is certainly a typical ‘formula’ of a global idea. However, whether this will really go an extra mile in reinforcing or even reminding the consumer of the emotional value of Coca Cola require a strategic creative adaptation technique.

Base on the same ‘formula’ of the execution there is an opportunity to stretch the idea further and create voice over that is more creative or even leverage on ‘topical’ issues relating to the local consumer in each country. There are also untapped opportunities to create scripts that reflect different consumers’ special interests – targeting towards consumers in different ‘channels’ (for example the voice over for the spot airing during X-Factor could well be different from the voice over for the spot airing during the World Cup season!). In doing so the commercial can remain current and relevant at any time. In my opinion, this is where the real potential of the idea.

The arrival of multi-channel media consumption had greatly fragmented the viewing habit of consumers. The web and mobile and instant messaging have also changed the consumers’ relationship with media from passive to active. It certainly won’t work anymore adopting a force-feeding and ‘uniform’ style of communications. The new ways in which companies connect with consumers need to be personal, exclusive, unpredictable and participatory. The commercial’s net takeaway message of Coca Cola being ‘a drink for every occasion’ simply won’t have the power to cut through the clutter.

Just like the approach of digital contents, TV commercials of today need to be ‘dynamic’ rather than ‘static’ – meaning the content needs to facilitate frequent updates and able to be customised for specific channel. Brands need to avoid generalised claim such as ‘for everyone’ but convince consumers that the message is genuinely tailored for them, and talks to them on a personal level.

Link to above TVC: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1847321790?bctid=76595062001

Same campaign for different markets:


I know we all have just been recovered from the Christmas ‘commercial’ craze, but I just picked up this news from my Czech friends and thought this is such a great example of brands making the best use of local culture.

Kofola, a Czech soft drink that competes with the likes of Coca-Cola dropped Santa Clause (Jezisek) in the festive commercial since 03. The ad made use of a local legend, according to which a golden pig shows itself to those fasting on Christmas Day. The commercial shows while trekking through a snow-covered forest in a quest of a Christmas tree, a father tells his daughter the golden pig tale until the little girl declares she won’t have to fast because she already sees a pig. A wild boar chases them away.

One of the main challenges for global brands seeking to expand to foreign markets is the task of balancing standardization with customization. When global brands expand overseas, they are often tempted to repeat their tried and tested formula in the new market as well. In execution terms meaning they often without further exploration, will try to adopt the global advertising with minimum adjustments for the local market. The assumption is that customers would be too eager to adopt the brand because of its ‘global reputation’. However, we have to understand that each market has its own subtleties, unique characteristics and preferences. Many of these unique characteristics are deeply inspired by the local culture. The challenge in fact is how to build on the global platform and execute it creatively with local relevance. In this day and age of 360˚ communications, it could well be achieved by combining local executions in ‘non traditional’ medium.

In the case of Kofola, obviously they do not have that ‘baggage’ since they are a home grown brand, but their creative tactics is something that global brands can take reference from.

TVC link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlTUBgyvQaA

I was reading the ads in the tube the other day.

It is Christmas season so lots of ads on gift giving. In front of me was a tube card advertising a kind of personalised greeting card – something you can order online and apparently personalise it with your own message or greetings. The advertiser used a side by side comparison; on the left hand side the visual shows a pretty cute pair of socks with very Christmassy pattern, the headline above reads ‘rubbish present’, on the right hand side the visual shows pretty standard looking design of the so called personalised card and the headline above it reads ‘brilliant card’.

I can’t stop wondering which present I prefer to receive. Just from the two options in front of me, I probably prefer the socks. The pair of socks is nothing spectacular, but with a bit of improvisation, the socks could turn into decorations on Christmas tree? May be?

I can’t imagine why people need to get the greeting cards from the web site these days when anyone can pretty much create their own from their desktop – with just a bit of imagination and adding a personal touch with the help of the countless software available in the market.

The ad is one of those typical ideas that create comparison for no particular reason and worst still, base on no solid ground or competitive advantage. It’s advertising for the sake of advertising. It also leads me to think about the cultural differences in comparative advertising. In Asia, for example, you need to have a solid ground in comparing your superiority over the competitors (or any other product group), otherwise, it is usually considered to be bad taste. Worst still, it could well be illegal. Back in Hong Kong, there was once a well-known brand of biscuits making a light hearted comparison with their products over ‘giving flowers’ as a present during festival, a group of florists complained about the tactics and the ad was banned.

In fact, the appreciation of comparative advertising is culture-bound. It fits better in markets of the configuration individualism-masculinity with weak uncertainty avoidance (such as the United States). It is often not appreciated in most other cultures.

Back to the tube card…the tagline of the ad reads ‘Give a moonpig card and knock their socks off this Christmas.’ Ah – the whole idea was probably derived from the saying ‘knock their socks off’.


For the past 10 years, after I have relocated to London, my work had been almost 100% around international brands and communications. Building great platforms for advertising ideas and making sure it travels to other cultures has been my focus. Being someone from with design training and a copywriting background, I naturally think both visually and verbally. As a creative I have never confined my thinking in either discipline. To me visual and text can never be separated – they compliment each other and form the message collectively. Even when I put on the hat of a copywriter, I also write ‘visually’ – even for radio commercials!

There are just a handful of companies in London who specialise in creative adaptation of international advertising ideas, so not only there are not a lot of people truly know the skills and the work involved, worst still, there have been many misconception about this particular sector.

Some people think it’s just about ‘translation’, for others, who may have a bit of knowledge about the differences, call it ‘transcreation’, ‘localisation’ or ‘internationalisation’. I admit I have used all these terms when engaging in conversations or presentations that simply didn’t have the luxury of time to explain its true definition. A lot of people asked me about the differences in ‘translation’ and ‘creative adaptation’ (the way I tend to prefer to call it if I have the choice), I often cite the example of a moving company.

Translation is like a moving company that deal with straightforward transport of the goods from one place to another. A good moving company is reliable and charge reasonably, but there won’t be any added value or they won’t give you any advice on what to look out for in a move. I have come across with moving companies who don’t even check if the destination has any place for parking! But they serve the purpose, and we all need the service of ‘a man and a van’ at some point in our lives.

Creative adaptation is like a relocation consultant, they specialise in international moving and know exactly the climate, traffic condition, culture, people and the customs of the place where you are moving to. Good relocation consultant even will advice on what needs to look out for when you arrive and prepare all the necessary documents so you can clear the customs quickly and efficiently. They even unpack everything and put them all in the right place. I have relocated twice in my life and know exactly how valuable these services could be; they may cost more but you know damn well that they are worth every penny.

With international brands expanding overseas rapidly to secure their position in the global stage, and with advertising spending need to be accountable these days, creative adaptation had become a hot topic once again. It is even more important to make sure companies don’t see creative adaptation as a language business but rather an area that combines creativity and marketing knowledge.